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Checklist: What You Need to Know About Coronavirus

THURSDAY, Jan. 30, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- The coronavirus that has rapidly infected nearly 6,000 people in China is spreading across the globe, with five cases confirmed in the United States.

The death toll in China so far has topped 130.

Here's what else you should know about the new coronavirus, called 2019-nCoV, which originated in the city of Wuhan:

"This is a new virus that has not been previously identified in humans," said Debra Chew, a former epidemic officer at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"It belongs to a large family of viruses called coronaviruses. These viruses can cause respiratory illnesses such as the common cold, and more severe illnesses such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS)," Chew said.

"Currently, a lot is unknown about the Wuhan coronavirus, but the CDC and the World Health Organization are actively investigating to learn more about this virus, the way it spreads and its severity of illness," added Chew, a professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School

Should Americans be concerned?

"While any new virus is a serious public health concern, the immediate health risk to the American public is deemed low at this point," said Chew. "The virus is thought to have some limited person-to-person spread, and the CDC and WHO are conducting ongoing investigations to learn more about the degree of this spread."

What is known about how the virus spreads?

"While a lot about this new coronavirus is still unknown, it may have been transmitted to humans from an animal source, as many of the confirmed early cases were linked to a seafood/live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed," said Chew. "Some person-to-person spread has occurred by some who were in close contact to an infected patient and are being investigated."

What are the symptoms and health risks?

"Common signs, such as fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties are like those found with other respiratory illnesses," Chew explained. "In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. Illness appears to be more severe in those who have underlying medical conditions, a weakened immune system, the elderly and the very young."

How is it treated?

"As with many viruses, there is no specific treatment, but many of the symptoms can be treated, and supportive care for infected persons can be highly effective," Chew said. "Since this is a new virus, there is no vaccine, and it can take of number of years for a new vaccine to be developed."

How can people protect themselves, especially if they are flying and will be in contact with people from all over the world?

"Travelers should follow standard recommendations to reduce exposure to and spread of a range of infections," Chew advised. "This includes washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve -- not your hands -- when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact, if possible, with anyone showing symptoms of a respiratory illness, such as coughing and sneezing."

On Monday, the CDC urged all Americans to avoid any nonessential travel to all of China, not just Wuhan.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on the new coronavirus.

SOURCE: Rutgers University, news release, Jan. 24, 2020

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